Dan Jennings has one of those big smiles, along with one of those big handshakes. He tells stories in a big voice and often follows them with a big laugh. Because of these qualities, it’s easy to like Dan Jennings, who in addition has toiled as a savvy baseball man in a capricious organization – the Miami Marlins – for which, presumably, that genius can have a tendency to go unrewarded.
This is where, one day in the retelling, Jennings, the Marlins’ erstwhile general manager, might very well gather up his big ol’ voice and big ol’ laugh and continue the story of the Marlins in mid-May 2015.
For on Sunday the Marlins fired their manager, Mike Redmond, because the Marlins were supposed to be competitive in 2015 and instead were 16-22 and a half-game out of last place in the NL East. It seemed at the time to be a rash decision, but that’s what the Marlins are especially good at. In a half-day of speculation leading to Monday morning’s announcement of Redmond’s replacement, the names that bubbled up and floated away included Jeff Conine, Brett Butler, Tony Perez and Ivan Rodriguez, along with the out-of-work Rons – Roenicke, Washington and Gardenhire.
But, instead, in a decision that would be described as interesting, out-of-the-box, and even bizarre, the Marlins on Monday presented their new manager: Dan Jennings.
Jennings last coached 30 years ago, at a high school in Mobile, Ala. His professional playing experience is limited to having been signed as a pitcher by the New York Yankees out of a tryout camp. He did not, by appearances, actually throw a professional pitch for the Yankees.
As his bench coach, Jennings hired Mike Goff, one of the Marlins’ advance scouts. Goff was a first-base and bench coach for the Seattle Mariners for a few seasons eight years ago, and managed after that in the minor leagues for the Cincinnati Reds and San Francisco Giants. Goff might be remembered for being the minor-league manager 20 years ago who, during a Northwest League game, mooned an umpire.
Jennings’ assistant general manager – Mike Berger – replaced Jennings as general manager under baseball operations president Mike Hill.
At the end of a wonderfully Marlin 22 hours, the organization would find itself back in the baseball season. Jennings will lead the team into a four-game series against the Arizona Diamondbacks beginning Monday night at Marlins Park. The Marlins, despite their promise of another new start, were six games behind the New York Mets and 5 ½ games behind the Washington Nationals. For six weeks, they have proven to be wholly average in almost all ways.
On Monday morning, Jennings sat between Hill and team president David Samson. Owner Jeffrey Loria was absent. The three men who had the most to do with constructing past and current Marlins teams said they’d spent recent days in conversation over the play of these Marlins and who might best lead them. When it was decided Jennings would leave the front office for the top step, Jennings said, he notified his mother, who responded, “Have you lost your mind?”
“It is out of the box, I will not deny that,” Jennings said.
Managing a baseball team is an imperfect science. The Marlins, as a history, are even less perfect. Maybe this works. Giancarlo Stanton has played for six managers since his debut in 2010. Jennings will be his seventh. He is known to like and respect Jennings, though presumably he liked and respected many of the others as well. Maybe it doesn’t work, but Hill, Samson and even Jennings seem to believe it will.
“If we didn’t think it would work we wouldn’t be sitting here today,” Hill said.
The job does not appear to be an interim one.
“Dan’s our manager,” Hill said, before adding, “for the remainder of the season,” then adding again, “Our expectation is this will go on as long as it’s going to go.”
“As far as for how long,” Samson inserted, “they’re all signed through 2018.”
One day, no matter how this goes, it’ll be a helluva story. And Dan Jennings will tell it well. Until then, the Marlins have a lot of baseball to play, and a new guy out front.
“I have never shied away or been afraid of challenges,” Jennings said. “I accepted the position because my heart is in that clubhouse.
"There are going to be cynics. There are going to be critics...I fully expect to be judged on the body of work."
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